Category Archives: Apple

Sony Walkman W – Klout Perks Review

So I got my Sony Walkman W in the mail on Thursday – read my previous blog about how Klout Perks sent one to me for free.

Their competition for the best social media content ended the day after, on Friday, so I guess I missed out on that! I haven’t had much time to try them out, but here’s my analysis so far:

Sony Walkman W

 

To set the scene – I’m a runner, and I do hate running with headphones – the wires get in the way, they fall out the whole time and it’s just not very liberating. So I have an open mind here. This is the Sony Walkman W Meb Keflezighi model, who obviously likes Orange.

Good – It’s much more compatible than I had expected

So it doesn’t sync with iTunes, but I can get music on relatively easily. I create Genius Playlists on my iPhone, download them on my Mac (I use iTunes cloud so quite often the music isn’t on my Mac) and then I drag the downloaded content from iTunes onto the Sony Walkman, which appears as a USB disk on my Mac.

So in 5 minutes or so I have 100 songs on it, which is enough for a workout. Admittedly I do like the flexibility of iTunes Match on my iPhone, where I can dial in a Genius playlist for the exact mood I’m in, but I usually listen to the same stuff anyhow.

Good – Fit

The fit is much better than the device looks it ought to be, and not having cables everywhere is a big win. I focus more on running and less on not getting tangled, which is more fun.

Good – Sound Quality

It’s not at the top of my list for workout headphones, but the sound quality is surprisingly good. Better, I’d say, than Apple’s iPhone 5 headphones. Not as good as a high-end Sennheiser or Shure headphone, but I can’t say I really care when I’m pounding the pavement. Bass is pretty awesome, which is a really nice in a workout headphone, and mid-ranges and trebles have plenty of detail.

Good/Bad – Noise Canceling

These headphones give you a really surprising amount of noise canceling effect. It does mean that if you’re on the open road, you need to make sure you pay extra attention because you may not hear cars and cyclists around you.

Good/Bad – Controls

The controls are on the bottom of the ear-pads and take some getting used to because you have to navigate them by touch and they are close together. The Sony Lady barks commands at you like “Shuffle Play” in a sci-fi style, which is pretty funny. As you use the device, they become just fine but they’re fiddly on first attempt.

Not so Good – Music Choice

You can’t really choose what you listen to. Sony say you can drag and drop your iTunes playlists but I can’t get it to work.

Not so Good – You look like Cheburashka

Need I say more? I tried it in the office and felt like a nerd. This headwear is acceptable only for work-outs!

Cheburashka

2) It’s not… integrated

I love the idea of sports headphones, but syncing music is sooooo last decade. I mean check out the Polar H7 Heart Rate Monitor. That thing syncs with your iPhone via Bluetooth and takes a full ECG to your favorite Fitness App.

The Jabra Sport looks like it might be a very nice companion to a workout, as an alternative.

Conclusions

If Sony made a version of this that was a bit smaller on the ears, fitted slightly more comfortably, and worked with Bluetooth rather than using old-school USB technology, I think it would be way cooler.

Sony have done a great job of the Walkman W, and if you want a set of USB headphones without the wires, then these guys are just what you need.

It looks like they are positioning them against the iPod Shuffle and since I have one of those too, I’d say the Walkman W definitely wins.

Sony Walkman W – Klout Perks – first thoughts

I was sat having a quiet haircut yesterday, responding to a few emails on my iPhone when up popped a notification from Klout:

You have a new perk from Sony, a free Walkman etc. etc.

In this society the initial reaction is 1) I’m being scammed 2) How did my phone get hacked 3) What’s the catch. As it turns out, Sony really is giving Sony Walkman W (is it Walkmans or Walkmen???) away to “5,000 active lifestyle influencers“. I’m feeling slightly pleased with myself that some social media marketing engine thinks I have an active lifestyle.

 

I’m actually a huge fan of the Walkman brand too. I’ve owned at least 6 of them, from the original 1980s tape, to a huge yellow waterproof model, to a MiniDisc one, two of the iconic Walkmans: the Professional WM-D6C and the Walkman WM-EX1HG (both of which I still have).

Sony WM-EX1HG

The last Walkman I owned was one of the early MP3 models in about 2000, called the Walkman NW-MS7, and there my love of Sony Walkman died. The software interface was painful, the proprietary MemorySticks were small and expensive (and fitted just one album at a time, so you carried around a bunch) and the battery life sucked.

Soon after this, I bought a generation 1 Apple iPod and my life was changed forever. I have owned probably 15 Apple devices in the meantime from the iPod classic to the Nano, Mini, Shuffle and iPhone. Yes, I’ve been accused of being an Apple Fanboy.

And that’s just it: my current work-out music player is my Apple iPhone 5. Why? Well it’s really the only device I have. I use Apple’s iTunes Match service to stream any of 100GB of songs to my ears, using the Genius product to create a personalized playlist depending on my mood.

Can a Sony Walkman W compete with Apple?

There are some drawbacks to the iPhone 5 and the major one is that even with the new headphones, which are pretty awesome, the headphones get in the way whilst working out, especially whilst running.

Sony Walkman W

And the Sony Walkman W sounds pretty interesting in that respect: there are no wires, so it sits on your ears and gets out the way of your work-out.

That said, it looks to be limited to a meagre 2GB of music, and I hope the jukebox software got better in the last 10 years. Actually I’m kinda hoping it will just work with iTunes and my existing playlists, but something tells me that is wishful thinking. Who knows how it will function with DRM and my existing MP3 collection? Will I feel like I look stupid in orange headphones?

According to the product page it should actually do all that and more. Interesting. Some reviews suggest the earphones come out when running, but I’ll judge that myself.

The fine line between genius and insanity

And that’s just it – is this social media marketing genius, or madness? Sony is offering the 5 most influential content writers an upgrade to the new waterproof version of the Sony Walkman W. It’s a gutsy move, because if the product sucks, they have 5000 whiney bloggers complaining about it and the backlash could be severe.

It’s especially a gutsy move because they seem to be shifting 5000 of the old product line which is being replaced by a better model. Is this because it doesn’t sell and they have a ton of them in the warehouse gathering dust, or because it’s a fantastic product and they believe in it?

I’ll let you know when it arrives.

10 Tips on using the Apple iPad as your primary device

I can be clumsy when overtired. And so it happened that I broke my laptop whilst travelling to a major conference, and couldn’t get it replaced for nearly 3 weeks. As it happens I then smashed the screen on my iPad, but that’s another story, and anyhow it carried on working.

For those 3 weeks, I had only my iPad as my primary computer. Here’s how I coped – and then ended up loving the iPad more than ever before.

1. Let go of trying to curate complex content

Question is – can you? With my job I often can for some periods of time, because content curation happens in fits and spurts. When a suitable powerpoint presentation is written, you can stick with it for some time.

2. Focus on Task Management and workflow

This was my next lesson – and there are some great software enablers for this on the iPad like OmniFocus. I love this because I can categorize and prioritize tasks – entering them as I think of them, and making sure I actually get things done. This is actually a huge boon for productivity.

I’ve also bought a bunch of apps – Keynote, Numbers and Pages to cover off displaying documents properly that others send me. GoodReader, which allows you to process ZIP files. And a bunch of free apps – Lync 2010, LinkedIn, Twitter, Skype, Facebook. I use most of these on a daily basis and they make a difference to productivity.

3. Buy an Apple Keyboard and an Apple Smart Cover

I’ve tried a bunch of iPad cases like the ones from ZAGG and Logitech, but they all SUCK. They are cut-size keyboards that cause you to compromise. Instead, buy a spare Apple Keyboard and carry it when you need to create content. Conveniently, the keyboard shortcuts also work.

For example, this blog is written on vacation, using the Apple Keyboard on my lap. I can type just as fast as on a desktop computer and I leave the keyboard in the hotel safe when I don’t need it.

4. Always carry the 10W Apple Charger

But only to your hotel room and never during the day. I charge the iPad every night, but never need to charge it during the day. That’s the beauty – on a tough day I get down to 10% battery but I’ve never run out. If you get desperate, you can always steal someone’s iPhone charger!

5. If you’re clumsy, look into AppleCare+

I think it’s only available in the USA so far – in the UK they were not familiar with it – but for $100 you get full phone support, plus accidental damage cover. If you drop, drown or destroy your iPad, Apple will provide you with a replacement on the spot, for a $50 co-pay. They’ll do this twice.

6. Use iCloud Backup

I got my iPad replaced just now after the cracked screen and it was an awesome experience. You back up the existing iPad using iCloud and then reset it. When you set up the new iPad you select “use existing iCloud backup” and it puts your iPad back just the way it was – apps, settings and data – including the latest versions of apps – in about 10 minutes. You can do it at the Apple Store when they replace your iPad. So convenient.

7. Focus on being in the present

That’s the great thing about the iPad – you don’t focus on the computer, you focus on the room. Gone are the days of meetings where people peer into their laptops like there’s pictures of naked ladies on them (get the Friends reference?). Instead, focus on discussing, sharing, creating and white-boarding ideas. Create something great together and then take it home to work on it.

8. Relax

Remember that you don’t need to do everything right now and this is a benefit. So long as you capture what it is you need to work on, you can do it later. But, to do this, you have to let go a bit – and relax.

9. Get focussed on your email activity

The iPad is an AWESOME email device because it discourages long and rambling email responses. Email is at its best when it is used as a mechanism to convey a shared opinion, to pass over a task to someone who is responsible and capable of doing it. It’s at its worst when used for rants, rambles, conversations and grenades – or to avoid a face to face conversation. Make sure you use your iPad as a force for good!

10. Enjoy

Sit back and enjoy what you get in return – no big bag to carry around, no chargers and cables. The simple and elegant tablet and how it simplifies your life. On my latest flight I carried a small slip that included the iPad, its charger, a few necessary documents and a toothbrush. No heavy wheelybag, and everything I needed for a week in technology. Not even a need to open an overhead bin.

Final Thoughts

I’m wondering as I write this whether the day of the desktop computer will return. More and more, my laptop is a tool that I use at home, to create content or do complex financial analysis. Provided it is in sync – and iCloud and Microsoft Exchange ensure that everything is – I just don’t need my laptop during an average day.

And I’d conclude that whilst I still need a desktop – the iPad has become my primary device.

Apple OS X Mountain Lion: simplification, killed by Microsoft?

Those of you that know me know that I transitioned to a MacBook Air about a year ago as my main machine. I’d say that I’m a pretty heavy “professional” user: Internet, Collaboration and Content Creation as well as a smattering of other tools. The MacBook offers me a nice blend of portability and performance, with the Apple “just works” thing going on.

That machine came with OS X Lion, which was a step forward for Apple. And this weekend, its successor OS X Mountain Lion arrived. What’s it like? Much the same, and here come some of the complaints. And since by now, I am an Apple-invested household with 2 iMacs, 3 MacBooks, 2 iPads, 2 iPhones and a bunch of other stuff, I figured that if anyone could make a case for Mountain Lion, it should be me. So I invested some time on Sunday to see what gives. Here’s my conclusions:

Messages: Simplifies my life

Good technology doesn’t add an extra element to your life, it simplifies it. For example my iPhone is a pager, cellphone, camera, WalkMan and 100 other things. However I receive messages via e-mail, text message, iChat, WhatsApp, Skype, Twitter, Facebook and who knows what other mechanism.

And Messages goes some way to address this. For casual messages, it combines text messages, iChat, WhatsApp and Skype for my uses, into one app – and on all my devices. So I can continue a conversation I was having on my Mac when I pick up my iPhone and head out the office – including the context of the conversation. Neat.

I’d love it to go further by offering support for FaceBook messages, Twitter DMs and for it to sync my actual SMS between my iPhone and Mac. One place for all my private message would be awesome.

Safari: I started using it as my main browser

I’ve been using Google Chrome as my main browser for over a year now, because I found it faster and features like the combined search and browser bar made it easier to use.

That changes in Mountain Lion: first, Safari has caught up with Google Chrome’s usability – and surpassed it with the pinch and swipe feature to move between tabs.

Second, if you are running iOS6 on your iPhone and iPad (I am) it provides neat features like the ability to sync tabs between your Mac, iPad and iPhone which means you can continue to browse wherever you are. Nice!

Third, you get all the neat sharing integration, though I’ve not really used it and I’m not that sold on it. But whatever, I only use Chrome now as a backup browser.

Reminders: Great idea, feels first generation

I love the principle: I have multiple apps for reminders. Microsoft Office Reminders, Growl, and every other app that bothers me with a pop-up. I’ve now configured Reminders for OS X and it combines Calendar, Mail, Twitter, Messages and FaceTime reminders into one place. Presumably other software will integrate with it soon.

Less good is the Twitter integration: click on a Tweet and it opens Safari with the Twitter web app, despite me having the “official” Twitter app installed. And it gets far worse when you start to deal with the Microsoft Office suite.

Microsoft: Can’t get the integration right

It starts with Reminders: if you want Calendar and Mail to work then you have to run the Apple versions. Microsoft Outlook won’t integrate. This means you end up with two lots of emails downloaded and two lots of programs running. With Calendar this is tolerable, because the Apple software is better.

With Mail it’s not and I don’t think that Apple Mail is a reasonable replacement for Microsoft Outlook especially when, as we are, we are a big Microsoft Exchange shop for corporate e-mail.

So you end up with two sets of reminders and then it gets worse because you realise that Microsoft Office doesn’t integrate anything like well enough. There’s no iCloud support for uploading documents. It crashes on Mountain Lion worse than before. And of course Microsoft Update is still separate.

Promises, promises?

Also, I noticed that a bunch of the functions are “coming”. Facebook integration for example, as well as a bunch of iLife features. For those of you not running iOS6 on your iPhone or iPad, you will also be missing functions like the Tab Sharing in Safari.

Conclusions

Mountain Lion simplifies my life in a few key places – even in nice simple ways like combining System Updates and App Store Updates. That it pushes data to all devices in a consistent way means I spend less time worrying about the integration of my devices. E-mail, Contacts, Documents, Reminders, Notes, Photos, everything is synchronised seamlessly between devices.

What’s more, it seems that version 10.8.0 of OS X Mountain Lion is just the beginning: they are going to be offering a bunch more things in later versions that simplify life further.

But the real lack of Microsoft integration with Apple is – for my use case at least – killing the experience. Apple needs to take a slug of its $110bn reserves and spend them on Microsoft’s suite of apps.

What do you think? Has anyone dumped the Microsoft Office suite for Apple’s iWork product set? Maybe this is the solution, and what Apple is hoping people like me will do. Let me know.

Is the new iPad really worth it?

If you follow my blog then you’ll know that I’m uncertain supporter of the Apple iPad. Like many technology elements they are an important part of the job that I do but I’m not sure whether they’re really worth the money. So you won’t be surprised to know the when the new iPad came out I decided to wait and see and decide later whether or not I would get one.

There’s no denying that the new iPad is impressive: the retina display on its own makes the new iPad much more impressive than any competitive product. However after a week or so I soon realised that it would be very difficult to justify an upgrade from the old iPad to the new.

And then three weeks ago I broke my hand. It is an interesting experience to break a hand because whilst it is not especially painful and doesn’t require extensive surgery in my case and it doesn’t really appear all that bad it’s actually really a terrible inconvenience. I cannot for instance write. Orl type. Things like opening doors cooking and carrying: things that you take for granted, become very difficult.

I read about the new dictation feature on Apple’s new iPad and decided that this might be a very good reason to purchase one. I’ve seen people you Siri on the iPhone 4S and thought that Apple’s voice system seemed to be very well advanced. And such dictation system could at least in theory make my life a lot more bearable whilst I was only able to type with my left hand.

This blog is my first real attempt at using Apple dictation and I’ve got to say that I’m really in two minds about it. If you’re in a quiet environment, you speak clearly, slowly and you avoid complicated expressions don’t actually works remarkably well. The trouble is that that’s not really how the human mind works. At least not mine anyhow.

And what’s more you have to tap the dictate button to start and then tap the dictate button again to finish. And when you do you have to have a Wi-Fi connection available otherwise it doesn’t work at all. And sometimes it just refuses to understand what you have to say. To add to all this you feel like a bit of a wally sat there clearly enunciating at an iPad.

In the ends to write this blog on the way that I hadn’t also required in reasonable degree of editing. For instance the dictate feature doesn’t really understand grammar and therefore won’t interject things like commas and full stops where you might imagine they would need to be. You might think that I’m being unfair that what apple is done is way beyond the quality of dictation of what others have managed.

And to some degree this is true because what’s really clever about dictate is that it works in any app where the Apple keyboard is required. It’s very useful when creating a note for the shopping or doing a search or any other time when using a keyboard is just a Little inconvenient.

But has it served as a replacement to being able for me to type? Have I been able to create content at a time when otherwise I would not have been able to do anything? Has it made the new iPad really worthwhile purchase? I’m really not so sure although the more I speak two it, the better the quality of dictation becomes.

However, in the end, I believe that the power of Apple’s dictation system really comes into it so when it’s offered an Apple TV or some such format. Because that is a time when using a keyboard or complicated remote system isn’t really very inconvenient and talking into a small remote or small iPod or something similar would really improve the quality of viewing experience.

Have you extensively used Apples iPod would you recommend a purchase? Let me know.

Has Apple reached the end of the line?

So I’m sat on a London bus going to buy a birthday cake, and I put, as I usually do, a set of boundary conditions around penning a blog. In this case, on my iPad, two short bus journeys totalling about 20 minutes.

And I’m pondering why, whilst I love my iPad 2, I very rarely use it. It is an item of beauty, of fashion and style. It is better than the original iPad by a million miles. The battery life is amazing and it integrates with all my other Apple stuff. It is always ready to use, always on the Internet with cellular Internet or Wi-Fi and never goes wrong.

So why then does it rarely get any use? When I go on holiday it is my device of choice – mostly because it is hard to work on it and temptation is kept at bay. At conferences where there is a lot of walking I sometimes use it. But the rest of the time it stays at home. And quietly downloads my email.

And then I think of Apple as a whole, I start to wonder when it last innovated. The iPod, in 2001. The iPhone in 2007. The iPad in 2009 and the unibody MacBook in 2008. Each of those were very interesting innovations. Like all good innovations, the technology wasn’t quite there to make version one a success.

What Apple has done amazingly well over the last 4 years is to execute on its past innovation. I have no doubt that their product line right now is the best, most polished it has ever been. Just like Nokia’s was in 2001. And that, you see, is the problem.

Because if Apple thinks that the new Apple TV, iPad 2 or iPhone 4S are innovations, they are dead in the water in 5 years time. The closest thing Apple have to innovation in the last 2 years is Siri, but their entire smartphone design is in such silos that Siri cannot integrate to the level it would need to, to innovate.

I don’t think that Apple is necessarily dead in the water yet, because there is time to be innovative once more – and remember that one amazing product every 5 years, with excellent execution in the middle, is still enough. The death of the innovator himself, Steve Jobs, makes that much harder for them.

Regardless of this, Apple will continue to grow because of their fantastic execution, for years to come. But unless we see a change, I predict that we will look back in 2020 as 2011 being the beginning of the end.

Why TechCrunch is boring, SAP is not, and the world has gone mad

It’s cold by the way. Winter finally arrived, I realised as I pondered SAP’s acquisition of SuccessFactors on the run into work. I can still feel the cold imbued from the run into the metal palmrest of my laptop as I write this.

The highlight of the weekend was Alexis Tsotsis’ faux-gonzoistic impression on TechCrunch. I say faux, because it has the attitude of gonzo journalism but not the style. From what I get of her article, if it’s not Apple or a startup, she’s not interested – and therefore the SAP acquisition of SuccessFactors is not worth reading about:

…you can never be too sure with these incredibly dull companies. I am too bored to Google it. In fact, I am literally bored to tears writing this, like I am seriously crying here in my local coffee shop and everyone is looking at me weird…

Really, this says a lot more about what’s wrong about TechCrunch, and actually the world as a whole. And so last night, I was discussing this point with a bunch of Enterprise Irregulars on Twitter. I’m going to disagree with Dennis Howlett (who used to be an Irregular), which is always a good way to start the morning.

@dahowlett: @applebyj giving idiots ANY play is plain dumb

Sameer Patel chimes in with a reminder that the Facebook acquisition of Gowalla – a FourSquare-style location based service, got much more airtime.

@sameerpatel: @applebyj @dahowlett not shocking. Most of yesterday tech meme led w/ reruns of Gowalla FB acquisition for an undisclosed sum vs a $3B buy.

And Frank Scavo got the feel of the enterprise community spot on:

@fscavo: I stopped reading TechCrunch years ago. @alexias’s recent post reminds me why. cc: @dahowlett @applebyj

But actually I think that Timo Elliott nailed it. Yes Timo, this is the real world.

@timoelliott: Strangely, this techcrunch post about the “boring” SAP acquisition made me very proud: techcrunch.com/2011/12/03/zzz… #dudethisistherealworld

And let’s just be reminded about how real this world is:

Facebook SAP
Revenue $4bn (estimated) $12.46bn
Profit $1bn (estimated) $1.18bn
% of world’s transactions Ermm? 65%
Users 800m 500m
Market Capitalization $82bn $72bn

If you compare Facebook even by their own metrics, they are still insignificant compared to the behemoth that is SAP. Billions of people interact with SAP on a day to day basis – every transaction with giants like Barclays Bank. 90% of the world’s beer is produced by SAP. And since SAP’s Chief Marketing Officer Jonathan Becher took the time to point it out, I’ll quote him:

@jbecher: @applebyj Amused by bit.ly/tFOK7J Don’t forget 65% of world’s televisions, 86% of athletic footwear, or 70% of world’s chocolate

Who says that SAP isn’t cool, with such accolades! And yet Facebook has the greater market capitalization. Why is this? High growth and cool factor. But Facebook has not proven that it has a sustainable market model.

Why does this mean there is something wrong with TechCrunch?

Well it strikes me that TechCrunch gets Consumer IT and is all over the topics that generate a lot of traffic, like Apple, Facebook and Google, and there’s nothing wrong with this. I do however think there’s two major areas where TC has a problem:

First, Founder and former co-editor Michael Arrington sold out to AOL then whined about their involvement. What amazes me here is first, his naivety, and second his desire for self-importance.

Second, it’s fine if you don’t understand Enterprise IT. But don’t whine about it being boring – because if you read Alexia’s article you will see that there are (currently) 99 comments, all of which criticise her and her journalism. Don’t write a crap piece of journalism and then follow it up with “I was just being honest” on Twitter – and then delete the Twitter post.

06/12/11 Correction – Alexia’s “I was just being honest” was in the comments area, not a Tweet. She didn’t delete it. My bad.

And what’s wrong with the world?

Well for my money SAP is possibly the most interesting technology firm in the world right now. I make my money out of the SAP industry so perhaps I would say that, but it’s also born out by facts.

They have the leading enterprise mobility platform, integrated back into an incredibly complex suite of software that covers 65% of the world’s business transactions. They are leading the world with in-memory technology.

And to add to that they have just made a major cloud acquisition, which might be the third dimension to prevent the risk of their becoming irrelevant in 5-10 years time.

What’s wrong with the world is that they are so focussed on Apple, Google and Facebook – with their over inflated IPOs and everything that comes with that. The world was not built on technology bubbles – it was built on hard work and honest money.

For a small number of lucky individuals there is a bubble with an IPO and a retirement salary. For everyone else, the world is a very tough place to live. My advice: stop being bored by the stuff which makes the world turn.

Amazon Kindle Fire: finally the tablet market got interesting

The fanfare around the Amazon Kindle Fire has been fascinating. Firstly, that the market seemed to be comparing it to the Apple iPad. Well, really that people seem to compare everything to the Apple iPad – and inevitably the iPad comes out on top. But let’s be clear: even with Apple’s mighty buying power, the cost to customers is still $499-$829, which makes it a premium device.

Despite what people say, the iPad is a device that the relatively well-off purchase as a toy. You see it on sofas, in cafes and in meetings and Apple have sold a shedload of them – and some estimates are as high as 46m units in 2011. The iPad outsells the entire Mac range put together.

But this makes it a niche product. And along came a bunch of other devices. HP’s TouchPad. RIM’s Playbook. All also premium devices, from organisations without Apple’s buying power and design capability. Oddly, when you compete with a fine product but without the financial backing, you are unlikely to succeed – and the market agrees.

Google have fared a little better than RIM and HP but over the whole Android range of devices from Samsung, Motorola, LG, Acer, etc. – only 11m are expected to sell in 2011. Because they all directly compete with Apple and – well – Apple do it better.

Along comes Amazon, who have had success with their Kindle e-Reader. It’s pretty unclear how many they have sold this year (CEO Jeff Bezos prefers to focus on e-books sold), but it was 8m last year. Sights of a Kindle are pretty common especially on public transport, where it is a fantastic and convenient means to read.

So Amazon know how to sell devices, and it’s by creating commodity devices that are cheap and sold at very low margin – so Amazon can upsell its massive content backcatalog.

And along comes the Amazon Kindle Fire. It’s no iPad Killer – be serious. But it’s $199! It’s small, it’s cute and it’s cheap enough so that the market is no longer niche. $199 is cheap enough so that the market is opened up to a huge amount of people who could never justify spending $400-800 on a toy.

Probably the Kindle Fire is sold at very low margin or a loss, but Amazon have a business model that already works for the Kindle and you can bet that the model will work just fine for the Fire.

The Kindle Fire will sell as fast as Amazon can make them. I can’t tell you how many that will be but I heard they can produce about 5m this year. Next year – you can bet the Kindle will outsell the iPad in terms of volume, although not necessarily in terms of revenue or profit.

And having that number of devices out there suddenly opens up the tablet market to being a much more interesting place – one where there isn’t just a single dominant player. And whilst they don’t compete for retail sales, they will compete for sales of content like e-Books, Movies and Music. With Amazon’s purchase of Audible’s audio book back catalog, they are clearly positioning themselves as a very interesting cloud content provider.

Which should finally make things interesting.

Why Apple has redefined the laptop with the new MacBook Air

So I’m a few weeks into owning the new MacBook Air. I had this feeling from the start – but now I’m certain of it. The new Air defines a changing point for Apple and for the laptop business as a whole. Here’s why:

Technology Innovation

There’s nothing new in the Air – I mean that. There’s no technology innovation here – all the components are commodity and all were available before. What Apple has done is to put them together at the right time in the right place. And crucially, Intel has made its new i5 and i7 processors available in low-power forms, which allow performance which is sufficient for most people, whilst giving excellent battery life.

The old Air had good battery life (5h) but poor performance, and had a habit of overheating. Apple have added SSD storage (low power, great performance), a screen big enough for most uses, backlit keyboard etc. etc.

Price Point

The next point is price. To get good performance on the old Air, you had to pile on the extras, and when you did this, it went near the $2500/£2000 mark. With the new model, the base configuration is sufficient for most people – and that is just $1299/£1099. It’s true that you can get a netbook for less than half that, but I think they’re rubbish.

More to the point – let’s compare with its serious competitors. An equivalent Dell E4310 is £1650 – compared to the base Apple i5 Air. The equivalent Sony Vaio SA is £1379. The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 is £1699. Apple wipes the competition clean.

Build Quality

The old Air felt a bit fragile, it has to be said. Mine went into repair for the hinge after a while. The new one feels just as well built as the MacBook Pro and feels like it should last its 3 year service life with me. And if it can do that, it will last most people just fine – I travel a lot and use my laptop more than most.

I’ve not used equivalents from Sony or HP but I have used the Dell E4310 and it feels flimsy by comparison. The battery hangs out the back and feels like you could snap it off with 2 fingers and a thumb. I’ve seen the new Lenovo X1 and that is well built – but very expensive.

Battery Life

And here’s the killer blow – battery life. On my old Air I got 4 hours when it was new, and more like 2.5-3h after 2 years. What’s more, it took hours and hours to charge, which meant it was always hard to keep topped up. I’ve just been using this laptop for a good few hours, and i have 65% battery left. In real terms this means I don’t need to carry a charger with me for an average day.

Compare this to the Dell E4310, where you have to have a battery with a bit that hangs out the back of the laptop to get a decent battery life of 4 hours. Or worse the Sony Vaio SA, which claims 7 hours, but owners complain they are lucky to get 2-3h.

And then there’s charging the new Air – an hour gets you 80% charge, which means you are never without. Plus the battery saving features of Lion mean instant-on and deep sleep, so you can leave it in sleep for up to 30 days. nice.

Gestures

The new Lion gestures on the touchpad are worth a short paragraph because it makes using the Air like using an iPad. You can browse and use the computer generally, faster than any device before it. It’s all slightly counter-intuitive to start with (scrolling is back to front for example) but once you get going, you won’t stop.

Criticisms

There will always be critics, and no doubt there are those who say that the lack of expandability – no upgradeable RAM, hard disk or battery, are a problem. For me I’d rather have the better build quality and lower weight that comes from having a sealed unit. I’d also like the option of GPS and 3G wireless integration – Apple seem to expect you to tether it to an iPhone, which I find inconvenient.

Other than that there’s the matter of my iPad2. It’s been lying unused at the bottom of my bag for 2 weeks, which I find troubling. More on that some other time.

Conclusion

Apple have taken technology elements together and blown the market wide open. The MacBook Air will be the killer selling laptop this year. It’s all the computer that someone like me that travels a lot and needs a powerful computer can want, and my Dell laptop is confined to the back of the cupboard.

There is the wider question of the future of the laptop market, as tablets and laptops converge and authoring and consuming content becomes blurred – but I don’t think that will hamper sales.

Does Apple have a serious competitor in Microsoft and Nokia?

I’ve been a loyal iPhone customer since its launch in 2007, with just one brief foray into Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 platform when it first came out. They redefined the cellphone industry and their focus on profits rather than handset sales has paid off.

RIM is all but dead and for my money at least, there is not – yet – an Android device that competes in quality and battery life for what Apple are offering. Whether you like Android or not is a separate point, and it does have a lot of things going for it and a loyal following, particularly amongst the technical community. Plus, of course the iPhone is expensive.

The thing is though, the cellphone market has a habit of reinventing itself every few years. Nokia, RIM and now Apple have at different times dominated the industry – for 5-10 years at a time. Apple has reached a dominant position and this means that everyone is gunning for their slot.

And enter Microsoft with a completely rewritten Windows Phone 7 platform. As I’ve written before, Microsoft have created an Phone which works like we think. It’s truly social and integrated with Facebook, Twitter and you move effortlessly from pane to pane – unlike the silos within which Apple’s iOS operates. What’s more its integration for email far surpasses what Apple, RIM and Google are doing.

There are essentially two problems with Windows Phone 7. The first is that it’s immature. Microsoft haven’t been agile in releasing new features and the over-the-air updates have been fraught with problems – which is all very reminiscent of early iPhone releases.

The second problem has been more endemic, which is the lack of a decent handset with decent battery life. Sorry HTC and Samsung, but your handsets suck. They’re too big and clunky and they don’t feel like a device that I’d like to hold. And at the price of some of the high-end handsets, you may as well have an iPhone.

Enter Nokia. Purveyor of quality handsets with great build quality and a reputation for excellent battery life. What then if Microsoft and Nokia co-innovate. What if Windows Phone 7 – with bugs fixed and better power consumption was available on a phone as nice as the new Nokia N8? I’ve held a N8 in my hand and it is a quality device – one I’d be happy to own. Shame the platform it is built on is obsolete at launch.

This combined with a decent number of apps (and the developers will come) and Microsoft’s reputation for integration and security may well woo the Enterprise IT community, if not the consumer alike. And from a technical perspective all is well.

The problem unfortunately is that Microsoft and Nokia have become political and social internal disasters – with many levels of management that throttle innovation and agility.

To Microsoft & Nokia: Create a skunk labs for this. Cut the crap out of your organisations and focus only on delivery. Prevent the management levels from stifling innovation or you won’t deliver. If you don’t deliver, remember what will happen. Nokia will become a dinosaur producing cheap mass-produced handsets. And Microsoft, your Windows Phone 7 platform will become another expensive product failure.

To Apple: Be worried. The iOS platform isn’t social and it’s already technologically behind what Microsoft is doing. Despite the fact that you have the advantage of creating beautiful products and a mature platform that works, you will lose this advantage when someone else innovates. And you’re not innovating fast enough with iOS. Use some of the $75bn and rewrite it from the ground up if you need to – it’s OK if it takes 5 years in the making. iOS will last that long, but it is on a meteoric rise, which will inevitably have a fall.